The Healthy Lives Photography Commission

In February 2018, photographer Matt Writtle was commissioned by RSPH and The Health Foundation to produce a series of images that would illustrate the social, economic and environmental factors that influence the public’s health, from money and employment to housing and community networks.

The aim of the commission was to build public and political understanding of just how much of what makes us healthy sits outside of healthcare, and the inequality caused by the unequal distribution of these factors. Ultimately, it aims to stimulate debate and action on these issues in order to create health and wellbeing for all.

The resulting series of 40 images, produced by Matt over the course of two months in his home town of Chesham, follows a number of individuals and groups through their daily lives in an attempt to throw these health-influencing factors into relief. 


1. About the area

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Vale and Ridgeway by night

These wards rank among the lowest in Chiltern District for life expectancy.

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NHS midwife Eszter Szekesvari walks down the un-tarmacked private surface of Ridgeway Road with her dog, Max

Ridgeway Road hosts a mix of reasonably affluent, privately owned houses, and social housing. No collective has yet come together to surface the road. Esther herself lives on Shelley Road in the Ridgeway ward, considered by many local public health and social support organisations to be the most deprived in the area.

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The corner of Lyndhurst Road and Lansdowne Road

Lying on the border of Vale and Ridgeway wards, this area consists of current and former social housing.

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27 year old mum Leigh-Anne Berry, of Great Hivings (Ridgeway ward)

Leigh-Anne is part of the local Christians Against Poverty debt management scheme, which helps people manage their debt by evaluating their income and outgoings and helping them allocate an affordable amount to put to one side every week to pay off debts.

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A pet rabbit looks through a fence on Batchelors Way (Ridgeway ward)

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A dog waits for its owner in Batchelors Park (Ridgeway ward)

Chesham sits within Chiltern District, which has been ranked as one of the top 10 ‘healthiest places to live’ England, and yet also has pockets of deprivation and significant health inequalities.

The least affluent wards – Vale, Ridgeway, and St Mary’s & Waterside – have a life expectancy nine years lower for men and six years lower for women than the most affluent areas.

2. What makes us healthy?

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42 year old Marianne Holt of Windsor Road (Ridgeway ward), with Flora

Marianne is training Flora to be a hearing dog for the deaf. Marianne is also a youth worker at Broadway Baptist Church, Chesham.

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A girl plays on a zipwire with her dog in Lowndes Park, Chesham

Lowndes Park is a big green space in the centre of town, complete with duck pond, football and basketball courts, a skate park and band stand.

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Messy Church

Once a month, Hivings Free Church is Ridgeway ward holds a ‘Messy Church’ event, where the community can bring their children to play games and enjoy a meal.

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Chesham market

Chesham is a historic market town, granted a charter to hold a weekly market by King Henry III in 1257. It now holds two, on Wednesdays and Saturdays, where locals can buy food, clothes, arts and crafts and practical items.

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Grow your own

Chesham’s large plot of allotments, on Cameron Road, is testament to the resurgent popularity of growing your own food.

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Freerunning at Chesham Underground Station

Freerunning is an acrobatic form of exercise which incorporates flips and tricks from other sports such as gymnastics, but without the need for expensive equipment or a specialist venue. Here a local freerunner performs a move at Chesham Underground Station – the end of the Metropolitan Line.

For people and society to thrive, they need to have good health; good health is a core part of the infrastructure of a prosperous and flourishing society and economy.

However, the greatest influences on people’s health and wellbeing come from outside of healthcare, and are related to the environments in which they live, work, learn and play. It is estimated that as little as 10% of a population’s health and wellbeing is linked to access to healthcare.

This means that, as individuals, we have less control than we think – the factors that influence our health lie largely outside of individual control. Instead, we need to collectively create the surroundings that create people’s health.

The Healthy Lives Photography Commission emphasises one of these factors especially: families, friends and communities. These networks build the foundations for good health: by allowing people to feel supported, included and valued; through opportunities for social participation that offer a sense of purpose and shared identity; and by empowering people to influence positive change.

3. Philip and Barbara

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Philip and Barbara take the bus into town

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Philip enjoys a drink in The Generals public house on Chesham High Street

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Philip with a friend in the smoking area of The Generals

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Philip plays dominoes with Barbara’s grandson

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Philip in the smoking area of The Generals public house

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Barbara prepares dinner at her flat for herself and Philip

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An unfinished jigsaw puzzle in the common room of Philip and Barbara’s sheltered housing on Bellingdon Road

67 year old Philip Woolnough moved to Chesham when he was 17 from his home town of Inverness. He worked all his life as a bricklayer. Philip is blind in one eye, partially sighted in the other, and suffers from type 2 diabetes. He smokes 30 cigarettes a day.

76 year old Barbara Buddram lives in the same sheltered accommodation as Philip on Bellingdon Road (Asheridge Vale & Lowndes ward), where they became friends when the housing association told Philip they could no longer allow his dog to live in the building.

Barbara now cooks for Philip most evenings, helps him with his shopping, and has helped him reduce how often he goes to the pub, which used to be a daily event.

She had been worried about people taking financial advantage of his good nature, and about the impact of alcohol and cigarettes on his overall health.

4. Graham Pickering

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Graham hits the bike at Chesham Leisure Centre

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Graham and his wife Laura in their neighbourhood in Chesham Bois

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Graham in front of his home in Chesham Bois

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Graham and Laura out and about in Chesham Bois

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Graham and Laura attending to the greenery in Chesham Bois

56 year old property developer and consultant Graham Pickering lives in an eco-house in Chesham Bois, Amersham.

Chesham Bois & Wheedon Hill is the least deprived council ward in the district, where life expectancy for a man is eight years higher than the neighbouring ward of St. Mary’s & Waterside, less than a mile away.

As a companion for Age UK, Graham makes a weekly visit to a man in his 80s who lives in St. Mary’s & Waterside. He also serves as a governor at Ivingswood Academy (formerly Little Spring Primary School) in the Vale ward, the running of which was taken over by Chesham Grammar School after it was deemed inadequate by Ofsted and put on special measures.

5. At the Edge

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Pond Park Rangers FC in training at Marston Field

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Former Cameroon international footballer and ‘At the Edge’ founder, Jean Black Ngody

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Members of Pond Park Rangers FC at Marston Field

The ‘At the Edge’ project in Pond Park (an area in Chesham split between the Vale and Ridgeway wards) was created in 2009 in response to high levels of anti-social behaviour, with some parts of Pond Park having become seen as no-go areas after nightfall.

The project, which incorporates Pond Park Rangers FC (16-24 years) and Hiving Stars (7-14 years), was created by former Cameroon international footballer Jean Black Ngody, a resident of the area, in partnership with Hivings Free Church minister Reverend Sam Owoo. The team hold winter training sessions at nearby Chiltern Hills Academy, and spring to autumn sessions in Pond Park at Marston Field.

After three years of the project, anti-social behaviour in the area had dropped by 69%, according to Thames Valley Police figures.

6. Beryl Catley and the Pond Park Over 30s

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Beryl in her home in Pond Park (Ridgeway ward)

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‘The Fish Friday Ladies’

Having met at PPOP In, [from left] Pat Mockett, Sheila Reynolds, Geraldine Freeman, Joyce Kelly and Marian Reed, get on the bus together every Friday to go shopping in High Wycombe. The trips traditionally culminate in a fish and chip lunch.

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Beryl in her home in Pond Park

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Beryl outside Hivings Free Church (Ridgeway ward), the home of PPOP In

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Beryl draws her pension at Great Hivings Post Office, Greenway (Vale Ward)

88 year old widow Beryl Catley helps run the Pond Park Over 30’s People’s Group (PPOP In), which gathers every Monday morning at Hivings Free Church in the Ridgeway ward. These get-togethers feature complimentary cakes, biscuits and hot drinks (mostly made by members), as well as a range of guest speakers.

PPOP In gives its older members, many of whom live alone, the opportunity to socialise, form new friendships and be mentally stimulated, all of which has a positive impact on mental and physical health and wellbeing.